In Fear OF
The Weaver Atropos
Chapter 22 - Eikonos

Nagi narrowed his eyes, unaccustomed but likewise uninhibited in his decision to approach Braun.

"Prodigy," Braun studied him carefully from beneath a fringe of dark brown bangs, "…you'd do well to halt your advance."

Undeterred, Nagi continued forward, power flaring dangerously about him, showcasing itself in the pulsing waves that sent his hair floating about him. His fury was a quiet one, and his eyes were just as dull and as lacking as they had always been, but there was an obvious anger burning in these, and a raging, positive suspicion lurking in them. He growled when one of the shrouded figures threatened to approach, bearing his teeth and tapping into his powers to send a gale shuttling towards his attackers. These scattered—forewarned by their own powers—but made no move for a counter-attack.

But there was no need for it.

Already, the memories that had been eluding him since they'd stepped into Rosenkreuz had returned with a vengeance, and with these, a realization that he was sure the others suspected. The words were already at the very tip of his consciousness—where he was sure Schuldich and Braun could hear them—and he straightened with a frown before swinging his arm furiously to his right, a telekinetic surge of power accompanying the movement. "You're no Eszett."

His voice was deathly quiet.

He snapped blue eyes on Schuldich—intent on conveying the message—but the telepath had already read what he needed to hear, and turned menacingly towards the group before them, malicious smile twisting onto his lips at the news.

He made to speak, brow raised mockingly despite the hand that clenched painfully at his bleeding abdomen, when Farfarello interrupted, stepping to Nagi's side. His voice was husky—raspy with disuse—and his only visible gold eye glittered about excitedly, taking in the sight of the impending massacre. His hands were twitching absently for his knives, reflexively tightening and loosening. There was a madness palpable about him, visible in the too-calm way he regarded his prey. "…The sacrifice for Eszett has been set," he agreed, fixing his gaze particularly on Braun, vague swirlings of recognition visible in his gold eye, "But the sacrificial lambs are six, not two," his expression hardened minutely, mouth twisting into a misshapen attempt at a smile, "…the Eszett have always been of only the blessed number. You are men, and nothing more."

Schuldich straightened at that, eyes crinkling slightly about the edges with his effort, and he smiled a little when he heard the faint stirrings behind them. Had Braun's group really been Eszett, awaking the Weiss would have been impossible; even with his strength, Schuldich was no match for Eszett.

Abyssinian was the first to rise, amethyst eyes skittering about, trying to gauge at the situation and attempting to determine what had happened as they had slept. Beside him, Balinese rose, jade eyes turning curiously towards Schuldich, trailing down his form and taking in the blood all around him. His gaze shifted slowly back to Siberian, where he took in the man's blood-splattered cheeks and torso, and his lips tightened minutely at the realization that it was all Mastermind's blood.

Schuldich was still gripping at his middle, blood seeping steadily through his fingertips and gathering in a growing pool at his feet, distracting enough for Farfarello to glance occasionally at him, his bloodlust held in check only by his loyalty. He smiled lazily at Balinese, his lips quirked in a seductive little smile, before looking away, shifting a little closer to Crawford as he watched Braun approach.

They had to be smart about things.

If Braun was being truthful, then Kritiker would be arriving for the trade-off, though Schuldich genuinely doubted they'd linger when they realized what was going on. At best, they could expect a few warning shots from them before the men disappeared, likely cursing Persia for his insistence.

Still, Schuldich was wary of the other men. He knew Braun was a telepath—he'd felt the man's invasive mind in the past, often despite himself—but he knew little else of the others. They hadn't attacked yet, save for the one who had lunged at Nagi, and Schuldich was uncertain if their passivity had anything to do with their power or…lack of it.

Braun was strong, but decidedly average. There was nothing particularly amazing about his telepathy. No, his appeal to Rosenkreuz leaders had been his ambition—his ruthlessness. The man was cold-blooded and calculating; he was the type that would go great lengths to get what he wanted. And once he was sure something was his, he was infinitely more inclined to abuse it.

Schuldich met the man's gaze unflinchingly, wincing only when the wound at his abdomen twinged, his fingers coated in thickening layers of blood. He had been the man's toy while he'd been at Rosenkreuz—subjected to his near every whim and desire—but the man had never broken him. He had been beaten, bruised, and bloodied an innumerable number of times, but Braun had never seen him with anything less than a mocking smile at his lips.

It had been his thanks.

And even then, he had known that Braun was weaker than him. He had hesitated to kill the man only because he had been naïve to the inner workings of Rosenkreuz at the time; he hadn't been sure what would become of him if higher officials at the institution caught wind of the fact that he'd murdered an instructor. He imagined he'd be incarcerated in the downstairs chambers, at best; though, with his reputation, he had figured it'd be something else.

Consequently, upon meeting Brad, he had realized the man was his only route to escape. The tall, brooding American had been sullen even then, expression stern and unforgiving, his impatience for the incompetent impressive, if not slightly intimidating. He had known, looking into the man's hazel eyes, imprisoned as he had been in Scrir's office, that Brad Crawford would be his escape.

Because he could see an echoing irritation in the man's eyes—could sense his disloyalty to the rest of Rosenkreuz by the way he was so painstakingly perfect, and he latched on almost desperately to the prospect of him. He had never been a passive prisoner to begin with, but after meeting Brad, he had exaggerated near everything he did. When Braun was around, he went out of his way to be chaotic, nevermind the bruises and cuts he'd nurse when he was alone afterward. He went especially out of his way when he encountered Braun and Scrir those few times, using his telepathy to bite at the very twinges of Braun's subconscious, always having been a bit surprised that the man not know he was reading him.

Brad had always been impossible to read—their first meeting had left him admittedly perplexed, curious about the dark-haired man who had stared disinterestedly at him, trying to gauge his potential, seemingly disinterested by his lewdness. He almost hadn't realized why he had been so enraptured by the man, by his severe sort of appeal, until—vaguely, almost absently—he realized that the voices had softened. They had become but faint whispers against his consciousness, nipping wearily at his cognizance, but too weak to catch much of his attention.

And just as soon as the quiet had begun, the man had stood and left, replaced by Braun, and the madness and the chaos had broken out all around him again.

Where Brad took away the silence, Braun only made it worse.

He hadn't known it at the time, but he supposed Braun had been very unintentionally projecting, threads of his power urging at his own mind, quite unwittingly seeking to read the minds of all those around him. And whenever his telepathy teased at Schuldich's own mind, the voices multiplied, magnified by Braun's own powers, making him quite insane despite his intentions otherwise. Though Schuldich had always strived to be particularly insubordinate around Braun, a large part of his rebellion had been unintentional; he hadn't been able to control his reactions to the increased potential of his telepathy. It had been impossible to even attempt to concentrate on perfecting his powers when all he heard were loud, disjointed voices, pulling at him from opposite corners.

But Brad—Brad had been different. The quiet emanated from him, radiating about him in a series of calming waves, soothing and tranquilizing. Schuldich had been attracted to that quiet—subconsciously at first, and later knowingly.

Their second meeting had been one he had been eagerly awaiting. Braun's methods had turned decidedly malicious after his latest escapade, but the bruises at his hips and thighs were little price to pay for seeing the American again.

He had felt his presence long before he'd seen him, relaxing bonelessly once he walked in, taking in the kempt dark hair, pristine uniform, and thin-wire glasses. He'd reached out telepathically then, by habit, and was perplexed by the silence he encountered, coupled by a slight frown on the brunette's part when he realized what he'd been trying to do.

He couldn't read him, which maybe shouldn't have come as a surprise, given the silence he emanated, but for a moment, Schuldich felt a surge of uncertainty. He remembered his initial impression of the man, that peculiar sense that there were deeper objectives to him—that his loyalty to Rosenkreuz was little more than a means to further his goals—and shifted forward anxiously. Scrir was there, too…but he was little more than white noise in his background.

Irrationally, he wondered if being closer to the man would help the noise fade further. Already, the voices had quieted about him, though he was aware that he could still summon them at will. And Crawford had turned hazel eyes on him, curious at his earnest, and asked why it was that Schuldich found him so entertaining.

And Schuldich had scarcely been able to contain his excitement.

He had tried at the man's consciousness again, wanting to communicate mentally, if he could, but the American's mind was as good as dead, locked away in a sea of all-consuming quiet. And he found himself yearning deliciously for that silence, wanting to taste at it and make it all his.

Instead, he had focused his eyes on Crawford's, licking at his lips and hoping the man would understand his request.

The knowledge that he had been stronger than Braun all those years ago—when he'd lacked training and discipline—was mildly settling. But still…he licked at his lips, looking around apprehensively…he didn't recognize those other figures. They hadn't spoken yet, and—it being Rosenkreuz—they were all trained in shielding their minds.

Schuldich pushed annoyedly at the wound at his middle, finding it difficult to concentrate with the slicing, pulsing pain that stemmed from a large gash at his abdomen and ebbed down his legs and up his torso in a numbing, hypnotic sort of way. Again, he caught Farfarello's eye.

He felt Farfarello's surprise when he entered his mind, aware of the startled quirk of the man's brow. The Irishman wasn't used to the feel of him, given that Schuldich didn't make it a habit of his to enter his mind, and simply regarded the redhead curiously, blissfully immune to the invasive feel of Schuldich's mind against his.

Briefly, Schuldich wondered why he hadn't thought of it earlier.

Farfarello's gift was a unique one.

Crawford wasn't surprised when Schuldich straightened beside him, hand dropping lithely from his abdomen, seemingly unaware of the resultant bubbling of blood. The German stepped forward easily, twining his hands and cracking at his knuckles conversationally. "You know," the familiar lilt of the redhead's teasing tone had returned, and he slipped seamlessly into German as he turned emerald eyes back on Farfarello, "…they say you're supposed to slice the throat from ear to ear…for a proper sacrifice. Blood's supposed to trickle everywhere."

He grinned as he motioned the silver-haired man towards the group standing before them, "…But Berserker's our resident expert on sacred ritual."

On cue, Farfarello exploded forward, knife already in hand, blind fury painting everything red. And it was appropriate, Schuldich decided, feeling Crawford pressing something tight against his abdomen and securing it there with a piece of cloth.

Braun had been stupid in forgetting about Farfarello and his tendencies.

Farf knew a lot about the real Eszett—about as much as Nagi, he supposed—but unlike Nagi, he was also the type that worked entirely by trigger. Comparing the entire exchange to a sacrifice had been Braun's first mistake. Forgetting that Farf had been a prisoner in the downstairs chambers and likely knew about the real Eszett had been another. Daring to presume the likes of Eszett had been his final one.

To Farfarello, Eszett was the permissible divine. It was the antithesis to the God he so detested, and consequently, an entity worth protecting. Any deviation against that agency—against the overseeing Eszett—was in turn an alliance to God, and consequently…something of a personal offense against the Irishman.

Even if the symbolism hadn't been so overwhelmingly cheap, Schuldich had a feeling that Farfarello would've attacked. His bloodlust had been building since he had seen Schuldich's wounds, and the entire lamb analogy had been a bit much.

Braun was an idiot.

He felt himself smile a little at that.

He had seen Berserker at work before, but it surprised him a little to note that the pale albino had seemingly been holding back whenever he'd grappled with Ken. The man had lunged forward at the group gathered before them, knives at both his hands, body too fast to follow. Immediately afterwards, Prodigy had disappeared, cloaked by his telekinesis, wreaking his own kind of havoc.

Mastermind, he noted, had remained still, blood gathering generously under the white bandage Oracle had tightened at his side, and he was leaning heavily on the man. His eyes were closed, fingertips spasmodically twitching, and Aya realized—belatedly—that he was fighting only with his telepathy, occasionally shirking against Oracle when he encountered an attack.

He was aware that he was missing a lot of what was going on, finding it curious that Oracle remain still, not even withdrawing his gun. And yet, he understood what the man's power was, and didn't doubt that, in some way or another, he was helping.

Berserker was inflicting the most damage, fighting in that reckless way that he did, blood splattering remarkably about, pelting them all in a most macabre mimicry of rain. Aya looked about quickly, gauging the distance between them and the Rosenkreuz elite, and unsheathed his katana. He was about to run forward, ready to attack, when Mastermind shifted abruptly in Oracle's arms, turning wholly emerald eyes in his direction. The German's pupils were swallowed entirely by his irises, and when he spoke, Aya realized that he wasn't so much hearing the man's actual words, as he was imagining them.

Somehow, Mastermind had sneaked a link into his mind. A useful little tidbit, similar to the one Schwarz regularly employed, he supposed, and one that allowed him to evade the more underhanded attacks at his person. He could see that Omi and Youji had joined the fight, too, Ken still unconscious at Oracle and Mastermind's feet.

Left, Abyssinian.

And he shifted left, unthinkingly, as though the suggestion had somehow bypassed his own, natural nerve impulses. His opponent was small, a few inches taller than Omi, maybe, but he was quick, and his attacks were spitfire. Twice, already, Aya had been left recoiling from the force of his attack. He was an empath, Mastermind had said. Aya had found himself at something of a loss, not having thought that empathy could really have been considered much of a useful trait at Rosenkreuz.

But there were many things he didn't understand. The empathy of his opponent was coupled with other, subtler gifts, and with them, he was able to slightly predict the angle and intent of Aya's attacks, drawing energy and passion from the very anger he could feel emanating from the redhead. As it was, the man was focused entirely on Aya, his gift trained on the redhead, channeling his every nerve-impulse and emotion.

It was a double-edged weapon—he could feel the burdening weakness of the injured telepath a few feet away, but he was likewise thriving on Aya's rage.

Aya winced when a distraction—Prodigy had frozen in midstep, shrill scream escaping his lips—resulted in a hit to the face and a split lip. He fell to the floor at the impact, confused for a moment, before scampering frantically across the floor, kicking at his aggressor's legs, belatedly aware that the man was withdrawing some type of weapon. He watched on, eyes wide, tasting the sharp and metallic twang of blood in his mouth, as the empath sneered at him—curly tufts of hair curling like snakes about his face—training a shiny, silvery gun at his person.

Die, Abyssinian.

And it was as odd a request as he supposed he was ever going to hear.

Behind him, he could hear another gut-wrenching scream.

Aya stared ahead unblinkingly, amethyst eyes strangely consumed by the seductive iridescence of the empath's silver gun as it scattered the light into a multitude of feeble rainbows about him.

He had only a very vague notion of what Mastermind had suggested.

He'll kill you.

And there wasn't even sympathy in the voice.

His consideration was short lived. Behind him, Prodigy let out another agonized scream, his pain mingling with his power and resonating in the flickering lights above and shaking foundations below.

Quickly, and this time using the distraction to his favor, Aya reached for his katana.

He felt the bullet pierce him just as suddenly as he had pulled the blade of his katana clear across his torso, intent on inflicting the most pain possible with the lowest amount of actual damage. Before him, the empath fell to his feet, shuddering in much the same way that Aya was, clutching at his chest as though the blood that was seeping steadily from the redhead were coming from his very own body.

The man cursed under his breath, clumsily reaching for his gun, crawling towards where it lay a few inches from Aya's own extended legs.

His instincts for self-preservation—though sluggish given his shock—were jump-started by a sudden rush of adrenaline. He reacted accordingly, kicking desperately at the gun and at his aggressor's hands, sending it skittering across the stark, white marble flooring with a loud clang.

Feverish blue eyes locked on his at the action, and Aya closed his eyes, swinging madly with his katana. He didn't open them until he heard the tell-tale sickening crunch of bones and the soft reassuring slice of smoother skin and muscle tissue. And even then, he swung a few more times for good measure.

It hadn't exactly been a clean job.

It was more the type of mess Ken usually made, Aya noted, using his katana to pull himself up. He inspected the unmoving body at his feet, frowning at the sudden cold he felt seeping into his bones, and was mildly aware that he was entirely soaked in blood. Suddenly hypersensitive, he wiped at the congealing blood he felt at his cheeks, and brushed roughly at his lips. He had been closer than usual to the empath during his attack; he doubted there was an inch on his body that wasn't covered in blood.

Morbidly, he watched as blood dripped from the very front of his bangs to the floor in a steady, perversely soothing rhythm. He was bleeding too, but he couldn't feel that pain, yet.

The only discomfort he felt was the loud, deafening pound of his heart against his chest.

He took a step backwards, his footing slick and sticky, and bit at his lip when his stomach turned, uneasy at the jagged painted patterns of dark red that emanated from the fallen figure, a sharp contrast to the marble bleach underneath.

Schuldich pushed at Brad's shoulders.

Nagi needed help.

He urged the American forward, aware of Braun's telepathic attack on Nagi, and even more acutely aware of the teen's probable response. Nagi was something of a wild-card when he lent himself beyond his discipline; almost as ruthless and uncontrollable as Farfarello.

It was difficult keeping tabs on everyone.

He was used to his links to Schwarz—familiar with their minds, with the taste and scent of their consciousnesses—and they, in turn, were used to him. Their minds weren't entirely open to his probing—Brad's, at least, never would be—but they were decidedly lax and receptive to his pressure.

It was harder to keep track of the Weiss. Their minds were entirely foreign to him, save for the few times he'd delighted in messing around with Siberian and Balinese, and their consciousnesses were consequently barricaded to his intruding presence. The reason for this was just as much a component of distrust as it was one of unfamiliarity. The simple fact of the matter was that he had only vague inklings of what the minds of the Weiss were like.

It was like trying to remember what someone's voice sounded like after hearing it once on an answering machine.

Trying to predict what Braun's little group was intent on doing was another matter entirely.

He was already weak from his blood loss, bodily reaction that he couldn't avoid, even cheating as he was with Farfarello's lent ability to resist the pain. Had he been stronger, and perhaps not so tuned in with Abyssinian, he might've been able to intercept Braun's attack, but he had been distracted, and Braun was a strong enough telepath to block him successfully on occasion.

He was vaguely suspicious that someone else was interfering with his telepathy—a form of psychic static, he supposed—but there was little Schuldich could do about that. He was in no shape to fight, given his blood loss, and even if he were to engage in a sparring of sorts, he'd be at less of a mental advantage. He wouldn't be able to help out the others with his gift.

Already, he had loosened his hold on Balinese and Bombay, intent on relaying more of his focus to his teammates.

He was being honest. He'd much rather lose Weiss than Schwarz. That was as easy a tradeoff as he could imagine.

Still, he scanned about him swiftly, taking in the sight of Abyssinian as he rose clumsily to his feet, his cheeks pale and sallow despite the crimson rouge that was streaked across his cheeks in an echoed effigy of sorts. He was weak, Schuldich noted, but not resigned.

Bombay was faring well enough, even without his aid.

And Balinese—

—Balinese was facing Irol.

Schuldich's eyes narrowed. Irol had been one of the strongest proponents against Ezsett in their time. She hadn't been outspoken about it—no one at the institution really dared to be—but she had been ruthless in her disregard for Rosenkreuz's norms and regulations, most especially in regard to Ezsett.

He didn't know what her power was. He had never been exposed to her personally, though he was aware that Brad had been confronted by her on occasion—mostly due to his misbehavior. That ignorance about her made him uneasy. She too, like Brad, was unreadable.

She had probably been the one to awaken him earlier.

Briefly, he chanced a touch at Balinese's mind, taking in a sudden, heavy breath at his entry. He had forgotten how delicious the blonde's mind was. Like Brad's, it was all-encompassing quiet. It made it easier to focus—he had been struggling since he had sent Crawford to help Nagi—and, for a few moments, he let himself drown in the waves of quiet, happily lapping at the silence before resurfacing.

He was aware of Balinese's discomfort at the invasion, a brief quirk of his russet brow all the indication the man offered before diving back into battle. He was holding his own against Irol, occasionally landing his blows, but Schuldich supposed that was only because she was still gauging him as her opponent.

Things would change when she harnessed her powers. Balinese wouldn't have much of a chance, then. Schuldich took a step forward, ready to intervene, when a sudden errant thought distracted him.

He spun around, losing his balance momentarily, and drew in a sharp breath once he spotted Brad. The man was grappling with Braun, brows gathered in anger and eyes narrowed menacingly. He could sense the American's indecision even from where he stood, taking in his too-tense shoulders, and the way his fists were just barely shaking. There was anger there, and irritation, but also an underlying sense of retribution and vengeance.

And, though Brad had never mentioned it to him, Schuldich knew that there were deeper and darker things linking him to Braun. He had never been able to read Brad, but…he had always been able to read Braun.

And that had been enough.

Schuldich had been surprised at first, not sure whether Braun were playing a trick on him or not. His telepathy was infantile at best, strong but hardly harnessed, and he was still growing accustomed to the different telepathic proddings he received from all corners of the institution. It was easy for him to know when Braun was attempting to read him, but it wasn't always the case. There were stronger telepaths at Rosenkreuz—ones he'd never met—and these didn't hesitate to probe his mind, even when he was outside of experimentation.

Still, the image had been bright, and clear, and crisp in his mind, and for a moment, he had wondered at the tall, raven-haired man that had visited him earlier. He had felt a palpable desire from Braun when the man had entered—had seen with his own eyes the way he regarded the young man—but he wondered vaguely at the American's own motivations.

Crawford was unreadable—his mind a steel vault—and his own physical reactions were rarely much of an indicator. Everything was perfectly and securely held in check. Schuldich wasn't used to it, at all. His telepathy had always allowed him to know what others were thinking.

Crawford unsettled him, partly because he couldn't read him, and partly because Braun's own mind was so at odds with what he perceived from the brunette.

There were things in Braun's mind—realities and memories, not desires—that involved the precog. Their involvement with one another was unmistakable—enough that Schuldich wondered if Crawford weren't being manipulated by the man on some level—but tentative at best. Crawford didn't seem the type to be dominated by anyone. Not even his mentor, as Braun preferred that the American refer to him.

But there was something strange there, nonetheless.

And it was all, crystal clear, in Braun's own mind.

Brad had managed to intercept Braun, but only barely.

There was no anger in Braun, however. Instead, there was a self-satisfied leer working its way onto his full lips, and his caramel eyes were sparkling with malice. He studied the American almost unblinkingly, something akin to a mocking concern visible in his expression, before shrugging apologetically towards Nagi.

The small telekinetic lay a few feet from them, nursing a broken wrist as he curled in feebly about himself, product of Braun's telepathic attack and Gamund's physical one. Already, Farfarello stood before Nagi, guarding him viciously, somehow having managed to anticipate Braun's attack.

Bombay, too, had come to the brunette's aid.

He was kneeling beside Nagi, hands tight on his wrist, trying very gingerly to coax it back into position. As he worked, aided by Nagi's own telepathy, Farfarello growled and hissed when Gamund continued Braun's abandoned approach, backed this time by Irol, who had left her game with Balinese in favor of a more challenging fight.

Even from where he stood, Schuldich could sense Gamund's excitement at confronting Farfarello. The Irishman was positively seething, visible gold eye flickering wildly about, features tense, disfigured mouth drawn into a grim line. He was counting in his mind, Schuldich knew from experience, calculating and trying to determine how many knives would be necessary to do in his attackers. Briefly, Schuldich wondered if Farf even knew who Gamund and Irol were.

It was too late, in any event.

Farfarello's hands were already twitching nervously—excitedly—and, like so many times before, the knives had already appeared at his hands.

Schuldich licked at his lips, turning emerald eyes on Gamund, even when this one ignored him. Gamund had been the reason he hadn't been able to pick up on Braun's intentions of attacking Nagi. He was the one responsible for all the psychic static.

It was no wonder Brad had been having trouble seeing things.

At least Gamund would be at something of a disadvantage with Farfarello. His insanity granted him some leverage, insofar as the mind-readers were concerned. Not that Gamund was a mind reader.

Youji sagged a little under Aya's weight, supporting the redhead even as this one tried to stumble away. He understood the redhead's concern—Omi was, afterall, largely in enemy territory, surrounded by Schwarz and the others. But he was assuaged in knowing that Berserker was protecting him, most especially now that he had seen the more sanguinistic side of the albino.

Mastermind, however, was detached from the fight, standing to the side, his gaze sweeping across the room periodically. He could sense the man's fear—his desperation—most especially now that Oracle was away. There was something wrong about that, he realized—something fundamentally tragic and vulnerable about the redhead's need to be within range of the American—but he understood. He had always sensed vulnerability in the German—vestiges of a scared little boy, still palpable under his mocking exterior—and he could see that child perfectly now, standing overwhelmed as he oversaw everything that was going on.

He was soaked in blood, as was Aya, but the origin of that blood was essentially different and sinister. He could see, from as far as he was, that his cheeks were puckered and discolored—as though he had been hit by an uneven, multi-faceted object, and his lips were torn and swollen in that characteristic way. His arms were bruised purple from where he'd been roughly held, and on his wrists, Youji could very vaguely make out where the rope had cut him. His pants, too, low on his slim hips, were tattered—and through the ragged patches, Youji could see the bright scratches, and the blood, and the bruises.

Mastermind seemed to become aware of his scrutiny only slowly, his mocking emerald eyes turning to his sleepily, distracted as they were with the battle raging before them. A faint smile came to the German's lips as he nodded, gesturing absently toward Abyssinian—inviting him forward. Youji's eyes fell to the telepath's feet, were Ken still lay—unconscious—and he mirrored Mastermind's nod.

It'd be okay for now, to leave Aya there.

He licked at his lips and looked back toward the redhead, taking in those bruises again, and remembering the uncharacteristic warmth and gentleness the man had displayed during their earlier encounter. He had been vulnerable there, too, Youji realized—almost tentative, uncertain—and his eyes had lit up excitedly when he'd realized something, and then there had been quiet between them…comfortable, soothing, healing quiet.

Mastermind stared back steadily at him, and smiled when Youji didn't look away.

"Berserker," Gamund grinned, flexing dramatically in a way that was reminiscent of Schuldich. "It's been a while."

There was no flicker of recognition in Berserker's eyes. He remained still, knives clutched securely in his hands, feet shifting only occasionally to reinstate his possessive claim on the two boys he was protecting. There was a peculiar glint to Gamund's own eyes, silver dancing excitedly at the proposition of a fight.

Irol was more cautious. Her eyes—so dark they were nearly black—were focused intently on Berserker, studying all parts of him with modest anticipation. What Gamund lacked in his impetuousness, she made up for in diligence.

Gamund took a few steps forward—slowly—and smiled when Farfarello held his ground, gold eye narrowed in seeming lucidity. The albino swept his arm to his right, trying to gauge the distance between himself and Nagi, and frowned a little. The lack of an eye left him at something of a disadvantage, and he wasn't keen on turning his back on his attackers.

They're a few feet behind you.

The whispered voice always came when he needed it.

He licked at his lips, a strange sort of eagerness building in his gut, and shifted his weight to his back foot, ready to attack.

Gamund correctly anticipated his move, throwing himself forward even before Farfarello had a chance to fully position himself, and the two fell to the floor in a mass of coiled, writhing muscle.

Farefarello's fighting style was entirely asymmetrical—there was no rhyme or reason to his movements, and his kicks and punches came entirely out of nowhere. His insanity worked to his advantage, insofar as no one could anticipate his next move, and he succeeded minutely against Gamund, successfully throwing him off.

His knife came back bloody, and the albino was momentarily distracted by an errant drop that made it to the floor.

He studied it curiously, gold-eye seemingly entranced, before turning his gaze back to Gamund, a chilling smile on his lips. His eyes seemed to snap to the wound at the man's shoulder, taking in the way the blood dampened the cloth around it, making it seem darker and more sinister, even as the blood seeped weakly outwards. It hadn't been a deep cut, but Farfarello was more than entranced by the results.

Gamund was more wary now, though he didn't clutch at his wound, and he studied the Irishman carefully, trying to ascertain the best angle of attack. He was aware that his powers were largely useless against the man, given his unique gift, and he wasn't sure how efficient a sojourn into Berserker's mind would be. Even if he might dampen the albino's inability to feel pain, that was no guarantee that it would serve a sufficient means to stop him.

There were no guarantees with Berserker.

Farfarello cracked something of a smile, gesturing towards Schulich with a nod, "…if he can't do it, you definitely can't."

"Stay here," Prodigy's voice was quiet as he spoke, and Omi nodded, reflexively clutching at his darts. He could see Youji a few feet away, holding onto an injured and bloodied Aya, and before him, he watched as Berserker tumbled to the floor with one of their attackers. Though there had been two—a man and a woman—who had approached when Braun had turned to Oracle, Berserker had engaged the man in battle, and that left the woman.

She was tall, though thin, and her dark eyes were severe. There was nothing particularly feminine about her, save for the round curve of her breasts, and the alluring way her waist tapered into her hips. Her mouth was curled into a dismissive frown. Prodigy pressed in close to him. "She's very powerful," he whispered, tone impassive, "…but she's hesitant."

Omi nodded, his hand steady at the brunette's back, "…her abilities extend the spectrum, but she lacks profound use of them, do you understand?"

Mildly, Omi decided that he did.

"I can stop most of her physical attacks, but the rest—I'm not sure about." Prodigy focused deep blue eyes on him, intent that he understand, "…anything's fair game."

Omi nodded again, licking at his lips, and helping the telekinetic to his feet.

He turned his gaze on the woman before them, meeting her eyes when she glanced dismissively at him, and hesitated at her smile. Like before, he was ignored when she spoke, "Prodigy. It seems time with Mastermind has whittled your mind."

Omi felt the youth stiffen beside him, even when this one said nothing.

"But let's get rid of the distractions, yes?" She snapped her eyes back on his, the malice in them obvious, before waving her hand carelessly. Omi felt a strange tickling beginning at his toes, shooting upwards and tingling at the very tips of his hair, before ending in a whispered caress at his jaw, and later, at his chest. He could feel himself falling backward—softly, with no apparent panic—comforted by that soothing caress. And there was suddenly another force, righting him, fighting against the soft, coquettish touches at his body, and he was abruptly lurched forward on all floors, his nose a few inches from marble.

Prodigy's expression was unapologetic.

He blushed, embarrassed by his earlier desire, and rose slowly to his feet. He could sense the woman's displeasure at his involvement—moreso, at the apparent distraction he was posing to Prodigy, but the brunette seemed inclined to keep matters that way. Already, he had very subtly stepped before him, shielding him a little with both his body and his telekinesis. Prodigy was shorter than him, slighter and slimmer, and altogether more like a child than he would ever seem to be. His right hand hung limp at his side.

"Enough, Irol." Prodigy raised his left arm, eyes narrowing at the effort, and hurtled a gust of his power at Irol. The woman anticipated his move and shifted to the side, responding with an attack of her own. Omi made to move, falling back into a defensive stance, when Prodigy shook his head minutely. "Don't," his voice was soft, "there's no need."

And his retort died in his throat when he watched Irol's attack dissipate before them, disappearing in an angry crackling of energy. Vaguely, he was aware that the brunette was trembling from the exertion.

His eyes, seemingly depthless, flickered about anxiously, awaiting the woman's next attack. There was a curious uncertainty about the youth, Omi noted, taking in the way he would tense and relax almost spasmodically, as though he were receiving information and then negating it as useless.

Tentatively, Omi glanced at Mastermind, wondering if he were behind Prodigy's uncharacteristic behavior, but the redhead's attention was focused elsewhere, emerald eyes wide and frightened at what he saw.

If it wasn't Mastermind, then—

"It's Gamund," Prodigy whispered, brows gathering with effort.

Gamund. Omi looked around. Was that the other one?

Prodigy nodded at his expression, "…with Berserker."

Omi nodded, taking in the silver-eyed man. He was faring well against the Irishman, save for a few bleeding cuts at his arms, and his face was flush with excitement. He was enjoying the fight.

Omi wasn't quite sure what he was expected to do. He certainly wasn't being of much help to Prodigy as he was, forcing the youth to cover him from Irol's attacks. And, looking towards Berserker, he wasn't really sure he could even attempt to get involved in that battle without having the albino mistake him for some expendable collateral. Still, it seemed that Gamund was sufficiently distracted by his fight with Berserker, and—though Prodigy's powers seemed to be dampened by the man's involvement—there wasn't really anything wrong with his own senses, so far as Omi could tell.

So Gamund's powers were limited only to the elite? The students are Rosenkreuz?


The voice was urgent in his mind—feeble, and quiet, and so far away, but urgent and demanding all at once. He straightened, managing to side-step Braun's well-placed bullet, and swung forward, catching the brunette along the jaw. The man tottered on his feet momentarily with the force of his punch, but regained his balance marvelously, cracking a knowing smile as he spit, coating the floor with his blood. He wiped exaggeratedly at his lips.

And again, he heard the pleading voice, barely there. Saying…something.

But he was distracted by Braun's own attacks—which he was having to predict based on subtleties alone, as his visions had left him some minutes ago. He suspected Gamund likely had something to do with that, but at the moment, any and all thoughts were limited to his target, and his hazel eyes were trained almost painfully on Braun, taking in all changes in his person. Any flickers of his eyes, or a tensing of his brows—they all suggested at something.

And there was that ever-present pushing at his mind, bruising and forceful, and entirely unlike the German.

He had lost his gun earlier in the fight, Gamund having knocked it out of his hand just before he physically intervened between Nagi and Braun, and he was fighting purely on instinct now, aching to kick Braun's gun away, absurdly fixated on the possibilities of doing so. Vaguely, briefly, he knew there was something Schuldich was trying to tell him, but he was consumed by his present need to disarm Braun—to dismember him, to tear him to pieces for all he'd done to him and Schuldich.

And the damn bastard seemed to know that, smiling bemusedly at him, behaving as though Rosenkreuz—and 'their time together' in it—had been something akin to a reunion. He was being deliberately obtuse, Crawford realized, well-aware that Braun could've shot him in the heart a few moments ago.

He wanted to savour the moment.

Wanted to ensure Brad's surrender.

He watched, shaking in anger, as Braun swung his gun around absently, pacing leisurely as he allowed himself a glance around the room, brow raised at the carnage Farfarello had wrought. Some of that carnage belonged to Abyssinian, Brad ached to say.

"Why now?" and Brad was surprised at how raw his voice was, lacking in confidence and assertiveness.

"Why?" Braun paused in his pacing¸ raising a brow imperiously and nearly growling. His eyes, already dark, narrowed before he crossed his arms about his chest, shrugging apathetically, "Why not? More experimentation in exchange for him."

Brad frowned, blinking uncertainly to clear his eyes. He thought he had seen something.

Braun regarded him strangely before continuing, "There was no reason for you to leave, Crawford."

In the recesses of his mind, he thought he heard Schuldich's soft, pleading voice. It lulled him a little, making him relax despite the danger he was anticipating.

"We can take you back."

He was aware that Braun was eyeing him oddly, then, trying to gauge his response to the offer, perhaps aware that there was something that was distracting him. His gun was back at his side, safety-latch clicked off, and he raised it, training it on him absently. "Just say the word, Crawford."

And he nodded, still entranced by the timidity he felt—by the soft, pleasantness that enveloped him from all around. The fear was clear on Braun's face then, and his black eyes flickered nervously about, landing on Schuldich suspiciously. Brad watched, motions languid, as Braun abruptly changed the angle of his shot, swinging his arm to train the gun on Schuldich.

Clarity suddenly rushed into him, pushing the air out of him almost painfully, and he made to react—hands reaching forward, body already moving, when Braun let out a choked, rasped attempt at a yell. He was on his feet—tall, imposing frame seeming macabre and strangely like a marionette, and clutching madly at his throat.

His first thought was to Nagi, but a quick glance proved he was occupied with Irol.

Braun's eyes were wide and bloodshot, and there was a peculiar pallor beginning to settle onto his cheeks. His lips were rimmed a pale cyan, and his hands were twitching spasmodically toward his neck. His attempt at speech was little more than a choked plea, and suddenly—with a wide sweep across the room—Brad understood.

"You can let go now," his voice was quiet, strained. He sensed, more than saw, the way Schuldich crumpled weakly to the floor, his body trembling, eyes shielded beneath his shaggy mane. He was aware of Balinese's hesitation at his request, but the man finally relented, loosening his hold on his wire, but not backing away entirely.

It was his turn now.

His turn to return all that humiliation, one for one.

But there were other things to attend to, first.

I'm horrible about posting these things, I know.